In the midst of a full-on argument with my college boyfriend, I told him I loved him for the first time. He’d been shouting, I’d been crying and yelling, and in trying to explain why I was so upset, I unintentionally blurted out the L-word, bringing the whole fight to a halt.
It’s three little words. I love you. Yet it reduces the most confident among us to sputtering, the most secure among us to paranoia. While I wouldn’t recommend confessing your love for the first time with mascara all over your face and a ball of wet tissues in your clenched fist, there’s not a whole lot of guidance about this early stage of romance.
How Do You Know For Sure?
How long does it take to fall in love? How do you know if it’s for real? If we’re “falling” in love, do we have any control over it? And how do you say the L-word for the first time?
In our recent BustedHalo survey, the majority of respondents said it takes them weeks or months to fall in love, while a few said they have experienced love at first sight. As you might predict, there is no deadline by which you should fall in love. We each experience emotions differently and at our own pace. But even with those differences, at some point we’ve all wondered if we are really in love, if the person we are with is “the one” and if so, how best to express those new feelings.
At dinner a few nights ago, a friend was updating me on gossip. One couple, she said, had just gotten to the “L-stage” after 9 months of dating. Another couple was wrestling with the fact that he’d blurted out that he loved her after two months, and she wasn’t sure what to say and wasn’t sure she felt the same way. “We’re smart, accomplished people. Why is it that this simple emotion is the one that trips us up all the time?”
The Food Poisoning Standard
Allow me to introduce my parable of food poisoning:
When I was a child, every time I had a stomachache after dinner, I would tell my mother that I thought I had food poisoning. My mother, a doctor, would patiently explain that it takes 6-8 hours for the symptoms to occur, and I’d know if I really had it. For years, I thought she just wasn’t taking me seriously. Then one evening, I got the real thing. It took just about the right amount of time for symptoms to present themselves, and when they did, boy was I sure I had food poisoning.
Do you attend Mass regularly? (y/n)
How important is it/would it be that your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend attends Mass regularly? (short answer)
How would you handle it if your spouse became significantly more religious after you were married? (short answer)
How would you handle it if your spouse turned away from religion entirely? (short answer)
How would you handle it if your spouse began to explore a different faith? (short answer)
Love is like food poisoning. It often takes time to come on, but when you’re in the midst of it, you’ll know. Sure, in the beginning, you might just have a suspicion, but at some point it’ll hit you that it’s real.
Unfortunately for those of us who like to plan and schedule our lives, falling in love isn’t something you can put on the to-do list. You might not fall in love with the person you’re “supposed” to, or you might fall in love when you least expect it. But while you can’t plan out love, you can choose to embrace it when it happens.
Amanda, 23, says that when she chose to marry her husband, she chose the deepest kind of love. “When I tell my husband I love him, I mean that I am here for him, I want what’s best for him and I want to help him get to Heaven. He means the same thing. Love is always a choice.”
Saying I love you is a gift: It says you’re making yourself vulnerable, you’re giving up some control and you’re willing to sacrifice. And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, it’s the greatest gift you can give.
Getting Your Feet Wet
If you want to ease your way into using the L-word, let me suggest several intermediate steps: You can start saying things like “I love it when you…” or the “I love how you…” as a way of introducing the term into your vocabulary without committing to the all-out declarative statement. After that, there’s the “I’m falling in love with you,” warning as a heads-up that the real L-word is coming (while leaving all doors open to back out as necessary).
At some point, if you really are in love, you’ll want to express it. And then there’s no hedging allowed: Look him in the eye, hold her hand, take a deep breath and mean what you say.
Are you wrestling with how to express your love, or wondering if you are actually in love? Share your stories. Write me at email@example.com. And for the next column I’ll explore religion within marriage: What if your husband or wife becomes more or less religious than you? Even when two Catholics marry, there’s a lot of room for negotiation. People change—and our faith may grow or diminish over the years.